UK Release Date: 2nd October 2015
Runtime: 110 minutes
Director: Justin Kurzel
Writer: Jacob Koskoff, Michael Lesslie, Todd Louiso
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, David Thewlis, Sean Harris, Paddy Considine, Jack Reynor
Synopsis: A Scottish noble murders his way to the throne when three witches promise him a life of glory.
Of all of William Shakespeare’s plays, Macbeth is perhaps the one that has the deepest relationship with the silver screen. Filmmakers as varied and iconic as Akira Kurosawa, Roman Polanski and Orson Welles have taken on ‘The Scottish Play’ in cinematic form. The latest director to step up to the plate is Justin Kurzel, last seen at the helm of brutal Aussie thriller Snowtown and set to direct the upcoming Assassin’s Creed movie. With the ever-reliable Michael Fassbender as his Macbeth, he takes the well-known story and covers it in mud, grit and gore.
Macbeth (Fassbender) is visited by three witches after winning a crucial battle for King Duncan (David Thewlis). The witches tell Macbeth that he will be King and that his friend Banquo (Paddy Considine) will father future monarchs. Macbeth’s devoted wife, Lady Macbeth (Marion Cotillard), encourages her husband to murder his way to the top and soon the couple must take increasingly drastic measures to maintain their elevated stature.
On paper, the Kurzel adaptation of Macbeth looked like it had assembled the perfect cast. Fassbender had the perfect intensity to play the title character and Cotillard’s wide-eyed appearance in trailers suggested that she was the perfect fit for the Machiavellian woman behind her husband’s rise to power. Thankfully, the cast delivers on its promise throughout, embodying Shakespeare’s creations in a way that makes them seem new once again.
| "I dare do all that may become a man. Who dares do more is none."
Fassbender, in particular, is nothing short of tremendous as the title character. His dense Scottish accent gives great intensity and weight to the dialogue, which is mostly faithful to the Shakespearean source. He convincingly sells his character’s descent into madness, contorting his physicality as he does so. Lady Macbeth is less of a success, given the script’s decision to abandon many of her most important scenes. In Kurzel’s Macbeth, the character is almost entirely responsible for his own actions, free of his wife’s influence.
That’s not to say that Cotillard’s performance is anything less than spell-binding. The star is magnetic throughout the film, even as her character is pushed further to the sidelines of the action. Kurzel seems fascinated by the men of the story, with Sean Harris playing Macduff as a hulking menace and Jack Reynor embodying youth as legitimate heir to the throne Malcolm. Humanity is supplied by the always impressive Paddy Considine as family man Banquo.
This is a film with palpable dirt under its fingernails. Kurzel is decidedly uninterested in fancy frocks and the royal lifestyle. Macbeth is a film stepped not only in blood, but in filth – both literal and metaphorical. Like Snowtown, the violence in Macbeth is the opposite of glamorous, focusing on realism and the impact of the swinging sword. Kurzel wisely eschews visual flourishes or stylised violence, save for the dramatic final face-off between Macbeth and Macduff, which is rendered as an almost mythical battle, giving it real weight and a unique sense of spectacle.
| "This is the very painting of your fear."
It’s not all plain sailing for the film, though, with a major drop-off in momentum during Macbeth’s descent into madness and the unforgivable sidelining of Cotillard. However, by the time Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane in all of its fiery glory, Kurzel has positioned his Macbeth as a worthy addition to the ranks of films based on one of the Bard’s best works.
Pop or Poop?
Justin Kurzel, with the perfect cast behind him, has produced a thoroughly modern take on Macbeth that doesn’t shy away from the bloodletting and brutality at the heart of the Shakespearean source.
Fassbender is terrific, Cotillard makes the most of her meagre screen time and Sean Harris makes an intense physical impact as Macduff.
It’s an imperfect film, but one that showcases a filmmaker with real visual mastery.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.